The NSW Government has committed $2.3 million to what will be Australia’s first dedicated centre for diagnosis and treatment of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).
The announcement of the Centre for the Prevention of Harm to Children and Adolescents from Drugs and Alcohol, at The Children’s Hospital Westmead, follows the successful piloting of an FASD service at the hospital. NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said a recent report had found more than one million Australian children were affected by alcohol consumption and 140 000 were substantially affected.
“In Australia, prenatal alcohol use is reported in up to 51% to 60% of pregnancies, yet there are few resources available to diagnose, treat and educate the families of children suffering from FASD,” she said.
“There are a number of clinicians undertaking life-changing work in this field and I thank them for their dedication. I know this funding will assist them to better understand this disease, which affects thousands of Australians.”
The $2.3 million in funding will also support:
The Children’s Hospital paediatrician, Professor Elizabeth Elliott – who has authored a Perspective in this issue of PHRP about the need for action to prevent FASD – said the pilot service, undertaken with funding from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education had, as expected, indicated a demand for FASD services.
“This will provide stable funding to allow us to employ a multidisciplinary team and to provide more timely and comprehensive services in assessment and management,” she said.
The service would be closely aligned with the Teenlink service at the hospital to allow the centre to help manage teenage drinking and try to head off problem drinking.
“$2.3 million is a start,” Professor Elliott said. “It will allow us to fund a clinic one day per week, and we’ll be able to audit our services to get an estimate of the need for services. We already get referrals from around the state and one of our remits will be training health professionals from throughout NSW.”
The multidisciplinary team will include a paediatrician, a psychologist, a speech therapist, occupational therapist and physiotherapist.
“We hope there will be capacity for such a service in other states, if not a dedicated clinic then embedded in their existing services, and we hope our service will provide a model. We believe our clinic is unique nationally and we see it as a great opportunity to put some focus on this area.”